Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

43: Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari part III:
Revolutionary Desire

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Last time we looked at how we are encouraged to pursue our desires (connections to flows) as if they were needs at the expense of our interests. The authors then showed how the ruling class traps the middle class's desire through the use of imaginary boogieman categories and the use of absolute judgments. Today we will consider the revolutionary nature of desire.
         Desire has been trapped into socially acceptable avenues of expression that support the ruling class (Q1)(Q2)(Q3). The social code of conduct is always and everywhere at the service of the ruling class. Therefore any unsanctioned desires are actually revolutionary in that they destabilize the powers that be.
         Revolutionary Desire
         Any repressed desire is repressed because it is revolutionary. Every desire that is not sectioned by the social code of conduct is capable of calling into question some or all of the established order of a society (Q4).
         The most dangerous repressed desires are coded with derogatory terms such as: criminal, terrorist, murderer, thief, cheater, loser, etc. Some repressed desires are wisely repressed others are not. The one that the authors believe is most foolishly repressed is the Oedipus Complex because for most people it is an imaginary boogieman: it is not a problem until people start to think that it is a problem (Q5).
         In the modern capitalist world there are some ideas that we have internalized which repress us and more often than not support the ruling class at our expense. These idea function as limits but they equivocate all the senses of the term “limit” without actually being all the senses of the notion of “limit”.
         An all or nothing category is a limit on our desires, but, 1) it is not an absolute limit. An absolute limit is the end of the world: when all social codes of conduct do not matter or are not relevant. This is a very rare case: Don Quixote and Gone With the Wind. 2) It is not a relative limit. The relative limit is the social formation of capitalism: it seeks out and codes uncoded flows: It continually pushes toward the absolute limit while simultaneously pushing the absolute limit further away: modern technological development is one example. 3) It is not a real limit. The real limit is the actual form or instance in which the limit threatens to arrive: the boogieman. 4) It is not an imaginary limit. The imaginary limit is the primordial beliefs and prejudices of the society concerning the category stemming from history or culture. The limit is in fact 5) a displaced limit. It is the fear that haunts all societies: the decoding of the social code. It is when the social code of conduct becomes unfixed and/or unknown – the terror one feels in a social situation in which one does not know how to act or what to think.
         This displaced limit is the reason for people's desire to be repressed and the ruling class's tool to trap desire into socially acceptable forms of expression. The authors claim that the first four limits are often substituted for the fifth one unjustly (Q6)(Q7).
         It seems that the authors conclude that if you have a desire for which you feel guilty you are being repressed by the powers that be. This repression is most likely not in your best interests and the guilt you feel is most certainly not in your best interests. But the fear of the unknown keeps us from experimenting with better categories and social structures that may empower us (Q8).
         Q1 In the modern world it is highly encouraged to show off one's personal wealth. Who benefits most from you showing off (that is engaging in the free marketing of) your latest smart phone, car, house, clothes, etc? It is commonly believed that we have an innate desire to show off – who benefits from that assumption? The authors claim that there is no innate desire to show off – it is a created desire: one geared to help the owners of consumer good's production and distribution facilities. How does this idea strike you? Is modern capitalist consumerism really in your best interest?
         Q2 We are told that the people rule in a democracy because we choose our leaders and representatives. Do our leaders and elected representatives ever change the socially acceptable code of conduct? In so far as they do, the authors claim that they are at the services of a new power elite; in so far as they don't they are in the service of the existing power elite. How does the idea that democracy is one tool of the in-power-class strike you?
         Q3 The authors claim that all our most common assumptions and presuppositions are actually tools to keep the powerful in power. Can you think of catch-phrases that are commonly repeated or accepted by most people in society? For example: no one is perfect; Obey you thirst; no pain no gain; etc. Please list some. If the authors are right we should be able to analyze each one and see who benefits and why we do not.
         Q4 Consider two examples: 1) the example of Galileo Galilei: one interpretation of what happened was that the powers that existed at his time used authority to dominate the people. Galileo's desire for empirical understanding came into conflict established authority and it proved to be revolutionary. 2) the example of the Glorious Revolution of 1688: one interpretation is that the people wanted the king to have the same religion as the people or in other words that the leadership of a country should respect the wishes (desires) of the people. Is it believable that a small but socially unacceptable desire could have gigantic revolutionary potential?
         Q5 Today the power of the Oedipus complex has been greatly discredited, perhaps due to the authors book. However, imagine for a moment that someone convinced you that all your psychological problems come from avoiding and repressing your desire to sleep with one of your parents and your desire to kill the other. The authors claim that this belief gives structure to events in your life, it gives a perverted sense of comfort that you know more than you do about yourself and others – but it is not true and it also causes you to act in a way that not in your best interests: Belief in the Oedipus complex makes you desire your own repression due to the comforting feelings of believing you know who you are. Do you believe that there are some lies which we want and enjoy believing?
         Q6 At the heart of this argument is the Nietzschean idea that our criteria for truth (or more precisely: for what we believe as true) is pleasure. That is: that whatever explanation best takes away our feelings of fear, anxiety or any other uncomfortable feelings will be what we will believe as true. Furthermore, once we have accepted a particular belief as the “truth” it will be a very rare case that a new explanation will provide more pleasure or comfort than the original answer and so we resist changing our minds. Do you believe that pleasure is a more accurate description of why we believe what we believe; better than reason, or emotions?
         Q7 The authors claim that the first four limits are scapegoats for the fifth. The fifth is the real reason for our desiring our own repression but the other four can provide justification for continuing our comforting beliefs. Do you think that the absolute, relative, real and imaginary limits of any all-or-nothing category really provide us with the feeling of comfort?
         Q8 Our society is not the only one to have existed. There have been radically different societies in which almost all of our cultural assumptions have been reversed (consider ancient Sparta where violence, thievery, slavery, adultery, infanticide and homosexuality were actively promoted). The authors are asking us to accept that our society does not have to be the way it is and to imagine a better one – but doing so is not convenient or comfortable. Is it worth the effort?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren